Mr. Feldman's photo of the Italian pizzaman in Stockholm prompted me to dig through my own photo archives for this picture. Taken in Kurashiki-shi, Japan, during my latest visit with a longtime friend who now lives there, it shows Mr. Sekizen Kohara at the prep table in his shop, La Cenetta.
Pizza in Japan actually isn't that hard to find (click the Pizza Royalhat image at right for a menu from a Japanese pizzeria). But good pizza is. Sekizen's pie falls squarely in the former camp, and it's what makes his shop popular with Western ex-pats living in the area as well as Japanese.
His skills come from time spent studying in Italy; numerous awards and certificates lining the walls prove it. And with his retro-ish black-framed glasses and jaunty cabbie hat (which he usually wears but wasn't the day I shot this), it's not hard to picture him in some post-War Italian cinema classic.
Sekizen-san uses a small wood-burning oven to make small (ten-inch) thin-crust Neapolitan-style pies. It's been too long (I was last there in March of this year) to give a thorough assessment, but I can say without hesitation that La Cenetta was better than most of the run-of-the-mill slice joints I've tried here in New York City.
I remember trying a plain pie (to use as a benchmark), one with peppers and onions, and one with sausage. All good, except the sausage that Sekizen used tasted less like a good sweet or hot Italian sausage and more like the breakfast sausage you'd find here in the States. Prices started at ¥1,000 (about US$8.50) for a basic plain pie and ranged upward to about ¥1,400.
A couple observations. First: La Cenetta does not slice its diminutive pies. You have to manage this task at table, with a fork and serrated knife. I'm not sure if that's common practice in Japan, as I didn't eat at any other pizzerias while there. Second: The Japanese there ate their pizza exclusively with knife and fork, no matter that the tiny slices were in no way unmanageable. Again: I don't know if that's standard practice everywhere, but it seemed to be the case at La Cenettaand I got funny looks for eating with my hands. Oh well, sho ga nai!
* "Pizza pie, please!"